27 Sunday B

Current Scenario:

The grim picture presented by divorce statistics. We are told that during the last three years the divorce rate in the U.S has gone above 43%, although it is still less than that in Russia (65%), Sweden (63%), U.K (49%) and Australia (49%).   In 1998 there were 19.4 million divorced adults in the U.S.A.  Each year 2.5 million more couples get divorced.  A greater number of   divorces   occur   within   the   Christian   churches   than   in marriages made outside the church.  An ABC broadcast reports that the divorce rate in the "Bible Belt" is 50% higher than in other areas of the country.  This affects the lives of one million new children every year, 84% of whom live in single parent homes. Statistics for the U.S. predict the possibility of 40% to 50% of marriages ending in divorce if current trends continue.  People between the ages of 25 and 39 account for 60% of all divorces. More people are in their 2nd marriage than 1st (www. dicorcenter.com).    With  divorce  being  so  common  today, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.
Divorce a curse on children: Today, divorce is at an all-time high, and there are more lives shattered by it than can ever be documented or calculated. There is hardly a child or a family in the advanced countries that hasn't been touched by the pain of divorce in one way or another.  Judith S. Wallerstein, Sandra Blakeslee, & Julia M. Lewis state in their book: The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: a 25 Year Landmark Study: "... children of divorce have a very hard time growing up.  They never recover from their parents breakups and have difficulty forming their own adult relationships."  In How Now Shall We Live? Chuck Colson (A Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 and later, after his release from prison, a noted Evangelical Christian leader and cultural commentator), notes some disturbing realities that plague children who grow up without a father: a) Children of single-parent families are five times more likely to be poor because half the single mothers in the United States live below the poverty line. b) Children of divorced parents suffer intense grief and other metal problems requiring psychological help.  c) Children from disrupted families have more academic and behavioral problems at school and are nearly twice as likely to drop out of high school. d) Girls in single-parent  homes  are  at  a  much  greater  risk  for  being sexually precocious, and are more likely to have a child out of wedlock.  e) Crime and substance abuse are strongly linked to fatherless households. f) Statistics show that 60 percent of rapists grew up in fatherless homes, as did 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of all long-term prison inmates.   In fact, most of the social problems disrupting American life today can be traced to divorce. Today’s gospel contains Jesusclear teaching on marriage and divorce.

Michel DeVerteuil
General Notes

1. Preaching on divorce

There is a perceptible shudder in most congregations when this gospel on divorce is read: the subconscious expectation is that now 'we are in for it' – an harangue on the evils of divorce, why it is bad for society, and why it must be opposed at every turn. There is a popular folk memory of such 'pulpit thumping' that is far larger than probably the real extent of such preaching in the past, and despite the fact that few people under sixty can even remember seeing a sermon delivered from an actual pulpit. So the first thing to remember today is that there is a lot of deep-felt resentment about such harangues in any community, and it creates a tension and dissonance between people and their hearing of the good news. It is part of the task of every preacher of the good news to seek to remove that tension.

However, quite apart from the fact that harangues on a topic like divorce simply do not work (indeed, they are counter-productive in that people resent them), there is a deeper reason why they are wholly inappropriate at a celebration of the Eucharist. Imagine a situation where a preacher was on a soapbox in a public place (it could be a blog on the internet or a column in a local newspaper) and is arguing the church's stand on divorce. Here the communications dynamic is that the preacher is explaining the church's position to all-and-sundry, some, many, or perhaps all are outsiders to the church and the gospel, and who may be inquirers about our position or who may be detractors of Christianity and for whom this message is an explanation. However, the situation at the Eucharist is completely different: we are meeting as the church, our gathering makes us the church, and as an intimate family meal of sisters and brothers in Christ, we cannot hear the church's teaching as if we were outsiders to that teaching – alas much actual preaching fails to recognise this! The communications dynamic at the Eucharist is that we are a group made into a sacred unity as the body of Christ, and we hear this message as intimates. So we hear the gospel as good news about ourselves and our chosen way for the pilgrimage of faith and life. Any preaching which starts off on the premise that the Eucharistic congregation needs to be told what'they should know' about' the church's position' on this or that (which silently assumes that the gathering and 'the church' are distinct realities), is based on a false ecclesiology and ignores the nature of the task the liturgy entrusts to the homilist.

What practical steps, therefore, can the president of an assembly take to allay the fears of many that they are going to be harangued?

First, concentrate on marriage as part of God's loving plan of salvation, rather than starting from the failure of marriage at the point when divorce looms on the horizon.

Second, since marriage is part of human experience, recognise that a celibate speaking on marriage sounds as convincing as someone offering to service your car because he has bought the manual although he has never worked in a garage! Preaching on marriage by a celibate has as much integrity as an plutocrat preaching on the option for the poor: the lack of integrity stems from the fact that there is not the combination of thinking, experiencing and feeling that is the hallmark of true human knowledge / wisdom. 

Third, get someone to give the homily who can help the community reflect on marriage from within their own Christian experience. Obviously, if there is a married deacon, this is a day when he should preach. Otherwise, begin the homily by inviting someone, or a couple, to address the gathering, and conclude by having a moment to reflect on what they have shared with their brothers and sisters. Every community has someone with some theological training or who has some experience with one of the many groups that act to support Christians in the marriages. 

Fourth, there will be people in the assembly for whom'regular' marriage is not an option, or for whom marriage has failed. So whoever addresses the community needs to be reminded that presenting some 'ideal' marriage as covering all and as being assured of success if only some criteria are met is not only false witness, but can be deeply hurtful. No one should leave the Lord's banquet of love feeling hurt — this is a basic Christian principle.

Lastly, watch out in using the word 'sacrament': most people think of an event (e.g. a baptism ceremony) or a thing (e.g. the Blessed Sacrament) rather than of an on-going mystery when they hear the word. So'the sacrament of matrimony' is the wedding. It is a waste of time to try to correct this: our task is to communicate the good news, not to make sure that people are aware of the correct use of theological jargon.

2. The shorter version of the gospel

There are two reasons for opting for the shorter form of the gospel today. First, the two topics are really distinct and reading both just creates confusion. Second, we live with the on-going effects of the abuse of children and vulnerable people by clergy. Reading this longer text, unless you are prepared to openly talk about the wickedness of the crimes of the clergy involved —some of whom may be well known to everyone in the assembly seems like obfuscation and denial. If that is the message that is sent out, then the good news has not been preached.

3. The reader of the first reading

The passage from Genesis 2 is one that many women object to as theN, note in it that the author believes women should be subordinate to men (see the commentary). This in itself creates difficulties in the liturgy, but these are only exacerbated if this lection is read by a man to the women in the assembly. So this is an occasion where one should try to ensure that the reader for this reading is a woman. 

Homily notes 

1. It is a basic principle of communication that one should not start with a negative: is there anything more off-putting than someone approaching you and you already know they are only going to tell you about problems? Likewise, with today's gospel: the question was put to Jesus about divorce, yet it is an understanding of marriage that is the real issue. But that raised another issue: given that their marriages are the most complex area of the lives of most of the community gathered, what can be said that is not trite in the course of five to seven minutes? 

2. If you are not going to appeal to your own experience of marriage as a place where the risen Christ is encountered — i.e. a sacramental place —then it is perhaps best to offer some texts for the community to reflect upon such that the homily becomes a guided meditation.

3. Introduce the meditation with some phrase like this: This passage from Mark's preaching reminds us that marriage is part of God's loving plan for the creation, and people who are married can, in their marriages, encounter Jesus who renews the creation, brings healing from discord, and who gives us strength to be people of love. Here are some passages to reflect on which express in prayer how we view marriage. 

4. Use these texts from the prefaces of marriage: 'You [0 God] are the loving Father of the world of nature; you are the loving Father of the new creation of grace.
In Christian marriage you bring together the two orders of creation: nature's gift of children enriches the world and your grace enriches also your church.' 'You created man [and woman] in love to share your divine life. We see [our] high destiny in the love of husband and wife, Which bears the imprint of your own divine love. Love is [our] origin, Love is [our] constant calling, Love is [our] fulfilment in heaven. The love of man and woman Is made holy in the sacrament of marriage And becomes the mirror of your everlasting love.' 

These two texts (from Prefaces 72 and 74 respectively) should be enough, if read slowly with pauses, to create a space of reflection.

5. Some may object that offering a poetic reflection is 'dodging' a sermon, but this fails to grasp the fact that what is called for is a homily –a communication event that allows the assembly to come into contact with the Word of God (something alive and active, and not to be confused with the words in the gospel's text) in response to hearing the preaching of the evangelists. In a noisy, busy world – a world that is so frenetic that it is well to remember that in every gathering there will be one person who has forgotten to turn off their mobile, and many others who are worried that they are missing calls while their mobiles are 'off' – deliberately creating spaces for reflection may be a necessary precondition of people hearing the Word.

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Scriptural Reflection

“Able to approach the Future as a Friend, Without a wardrobe of excuses." W.H. Auden
Lord, there are many things in life which you have made complementary,
not two, but together forming one reality:
- young and old in a community;
- men and women in relationships;
- people of different cultures in our one world;
- body and soul within each of us.
It is difficult to make this unity,
and so we allow ourselves to divorce these things from each other.
We see them as opposed and even in competition.
We thank you for people like Jesus
who teach us that it was not so at the beginning of creation,
and what you have united we human beings have no right to divide.

Lord, we who have been happily married thank you today for the great gift
by which two people whom you have made male and female
left their mothers and fathers and the two then became one body,
so that we are no longer two but just one body
in a bond so strong that no one could ever break it.

Lord, we pray that your Church may remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus,
so that even though we come back and question one another over and over again,
we may continue to say, as he did,
that not only is the man who divorces his wife and marries another
guilty of adultery against her,
but the woman who divorces her husband and marries another
is guilty of adultery too.

Lord, we remember the time when little children were not allowed to go to Holy Communion.
We thank you that you sent us a great pope like Pius X.
He was rightly indignant that they were being turned away;
he allowed them to come to Jesus
and would not let them be stopped any longer.

“The incarnation is the mystery in which each of the thousand million human beings living on our planet has become a sharer from the moment he is conceived beneath the heart of his mother." Pope John Paul II

Lord, when we become professionals,
doctors, lawyers, consultants, bankers, principals of schools,
we tend to isolate ourselves in our air-conditioned offices
with efficient receptionists who turn away people
when they bring small problems to us.
We pray that we may feel indignation at this
and that in our presbyteries and church offices
we may rather put our arms round the little people,
lay our hands on them and share our blessings with them.

“To understand Scripture we must stop acting like mere spectators." Karl Barth
Lord, sometimes at our church services little children distract us;
they make noise, run up and down the aisle and make comments.
We block them from our minds so that we can concentrate on our prayers
or on the sermon.
But they are teaching us a precious lesson,
that if we do not feel at home with them we can never enter into your presence.

“How much better to carry relief to the poor than send it.” John Wesley
Lord, when we were young we said foolish things,
or expressed ourselves awkwardly, and most adults dismissed us.
Today we remember with gratitude that one person who welcomed us
as Jesus welcomed little children, and took us seriously,
showing us that what we were saying was in fact very important,
and so gave us a blessing.  

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Illustrations: 

1)    Crime scene investigators (which we now know as "CSI") acknowledge that if all the witnesses to an event report exactly the same information there is only one conclusion to draw: They are lying. Human individuality, the uniqueness of individual perceptions and eye-witness, the unrepeatability of each person's own experience, makes it impossible for any group of individuals to see and report an event with the exact same language and coherence. If each rendition becomes a simply repetition - something is amiss.
The creation narratives found in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 should never be thought of as a scenario of "Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2." Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 do not offer some kind of contest to see whose world view wins. Instead, the biblical text is concerned to convey as much truth, to throw as much light as possible, into the relationship between God's creativity and our creaturely experience of creation. To discern the divine in our midst takes more than one voice.
What makes Scripture such a vital, life-giving force in our lives is that it is not a "mantra" of repetitious, unchanging, unvarying same-old-same-old series of words. Scripture lives because it tells a story, the greatest story ever told...
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2)    A Modern Perspective on Jesus and the Children

 If it seems strange to you that people might usher the children away from Jesus, think about the last time you flew on an airplane. When the family with four small children came walking up the aisle, did you think, maybe not so secretly, "Please don't sit next to me, please don't sit next to me?"

Now imagine Jesus sitting a few rows up, waving down the flight attendant and volunteering to have all the children present sit around him for the duration of the flight..."Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
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3)    Where Is the Hope?

I recently saw a newspaper cartoon of a mother reading a bedtime story to her little, curly-haired daughter. The book was called Grim Reality Fairy Tales, and the text read, "and the prince kissed her and they fell in love, dated a while and moved in together, broke up, got back together, got married, got a baby, got separated, got back together again, broke up, got divorced, spent time alone rediscovering themselves, met someone new, fell in love and repeated the pattern habitually ever after."
This worldview is sad, hopeless, and far from what God intended. More than ever, our children wonder what marriage is and what they might hope for in a relationship.
Steve Zeisler, What Did Moses Command?

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 4)    Don't Hope...Decide 

Michael Hargrove tells about a scene at an airport that literally changed his life. He was picking up a friend. He noticed a man coming toward him carrying two light bags. The man stopped right next to Hargrove to greet his family. The man motioned to his youngest son (maybe six years old) as he laid down his bags. They hugged and Hargrove heard the father say, "It's so good to see you, son. I missed you so much!" "Me, too, Dad!" said the son. The oldest son (maybe nine or ten) was next. "You're already quite the young man. I love you very much, Zach!" Then he turned to their little girl (perhaps one or one-and-a-half). He kissed her and held her close. He handed his daughter to his oldest son and declared, "I've saved the best for last!" and preceded to give his wife a long, passionate kiss. "I love you so much!" He said to his wife softly.

Hargrove interrupted this idyllic scene to ask, "Wow! How long have you two been married?"

"Been together fourteen years total, married twelve of those," the man replied, as he gazed into his wife's face.

"Well then, how long have you been away?"

The man turned around and said, "Two whole days!" Hargrove was stunned. "I hope my marriage is still that passionate after twelve years!"

The man stopped smiling and said, "Don't hope, friend . . . decide!"

And that's it, isn't it? For most of us it comes down to a decision. "Till death us do part." It doesn't happen in every relationship, but that is still the ideal that Jesus gives us.

Michael Hargrove, quoted by King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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 5)    Teaching Takes Time

 

One of the biggest problems in a culture like ours is proper time management. This is not because we have any less time than others; it's because the alternatives are so many. Because we have money; because we have ease of transportation; because the urban centers we live in have much to offer us in ways to make use of our time - any of us can find ourselves in a situation where we can't possibly do everything that might be done. The opportunities become a blur; we find ourselves in a maze. Sorting out the minutes and hours becomes an awesome task. And in the process, people - those people around us who are dearest - escape our notice. Their needs go unmet, unserved. Many times those people are the little people - our children.

Some argue that our children do not need the quantity of our time if the time we give them is filled with quality. It's true. There's no need to give our children even fifteen minutes of our time, if all they experience through us is negativism or unrest or a spirit of impatience. But most good teaching takes sheer time. Our loving and caring spirit, our understanding and calmness, and our devotion to Jesus Christ in word and action, need to seep in to a child's mind and soul. Such sharing rarely comes through a quick torrent of kisses or a fleeting, kindly word. It takes time and patience. Indeed the very spending of time with our children is part of our communicating to them that they are valued and loved.

Richard W. Patt, Partners in the Impossible, CSS Publishing Co., Inc.
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6) The True Meaning of Marriage 

In a Time Magazine article, Caitlin Flanagan observes that, while the divorce culture has become a fact of life over the past twenty-five years, the middle class has turned weddings into "overwrought exercises in consumer spending, as if by just plunking down enough cash for the flower girls' dresses and tissue-lined envelopes for the RSVP cards, we can somehow improve our chance of going the distance."
In our culture, marriage means less, but we spend more on our weddings. Go figure.
Flanagan concludes with these ominous words about the future of our country: "What we teach about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate." 

Scott Grant, The Way of the Lord in Marriage
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7) Real Life Children 

The experience of having children has made me far more sympathetic to the early Puritans who didn't use words like "innate goodness" to describe human nature. They used words like "total depravity." Total depravity! Jesus said we are supposed to be like children to receive the kingdom of God? I can only join with millions of other parents and conclude that our Lord didn't know my kids when He made that statement.

When you walk into the bathroom and see an entire roll of brand new tissue paper lying in the toilet, it makes you wonder. When you see a whole pile of freshly washed and folded clothes lying all over the place like a tornado had hit, it makes you wonder. When you see your child sitting on the kitchen floor, trying to share her plate of food with the dog, it makes you wonder. And that's just the one-year-old at work! Imagine the three- and the six-year-old when they put their talents together! Sometimes it makes you more than wonder; sometimes it makes you cry.

Look at a group of kindergarteners some day and ask yourself: what can these kids teach us about receiving the kingdom of God?

Erskine White, Together In Christ, CSS Publishing Company

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8) Responses to Divorce

 Jesus' teaching about divorce provokes a variety of responses. Some people hear the text snarl at them like a wild animal. Others grow angry when they simply hear the words, and vow to cross their fingers the next time they encounter that piece of scripture. Still others wish their preacher would stand up and swing this text like a club; family life is spinning out of control, they claim, and the church should push us back to simpler, more Victorian times.

It is no wonder many ministers avoid this text. One year the lectionary appointed it for World Communion Sunday, of all days. A clergy friend said, "I have a congregation full of divorced people. How dare I invite them to the Lord's table with a passage that sounds so fierce?" Another minister, a divorced woman, avoided the issue altogether. She ignored the first ten verses and moved directly ahead to discuss the blessing Jesus offered to little children.

So we have a problem today. Is there any way for all of us to hear something helpful in this text?

William G. Carter, No Box Seats in The Kingdom, CSS Publishing Company

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9) Strange Arithmetic

 Dr. Paul Popenoe, the famous marriage counselor, was talking to a young husband who had been openly critical of his wife. Dr. Popenoe was explaining how two become one in marriage. In a smart reply the husband said, "Yes, but which one?" The counselor said, "A little of each." Then he went on to explain that in marriage you have to develop "we-psychology"...and to think of yourself in terms of a pair rather than as an individual. What happens when two become one in a real marriage? Some think that it reduces your individuality. Too often one party or the other seems to be saying: "Alright - we two shall become one...and I AM the one!" Obviously, such a marriage is headed for trouble. Ideally, when "two become one" it means that each one is doubled, but not duplicated. You still retain your individual identity, but you add to yourself the identity of the other, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (Mark 10:7)

A wise person once said: "A marriage consists of one master, one mistress, and two slaves; making, in total, one." That may be strange arithmetic, but it is good theology. 

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words, www.Sermons.com

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 10) We Trust Them with the Children, Don't We?

 A new principal was checking over his school on the first day. Passing the stockroom, he was startled to see the door wide open and teachers going in and out, carrying off books and supplies. The school he came from had a check-out system that required the teachers to indicate what supplies they had obtained. Curious about the practice here he asked the school custodian, "Do you think it's wise to keep the stockroom unlocked and to let the teachers take things without asking?" The custodian responded, "We trust them with the children, don't we?"

Jesus wants us to trust in him and let the child within to be free. It is the only way to receive the kingdom of God. He wants us to give the child within the freedom to express itself, being creative, having fun and sharing emotions and feelings. He wants us to accept others who are different realizing that God makes us all and wants us to be genuine, authentic human beings. The end result is absolute joy and the opportunity to experience life in its fullest.

Keith Wagner, The Child Within
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11) Two Schools of Thought on Divorce

There were two schools of thought in Jesus' day concerning divorce, one liberal and one conservative. Rabbi Shammai taught that divorce was only permissible on the grounds of some sexual impropriety. His was the stricter view. Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, had a more liberal view and taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. If she burned his breakfast, put too much salt on his food, showed disrespect to him, spoke disrespectfully of her husband's parents in his presence, spoke to a man on the street, or even let her hair down in public, he could divorce her. The view of Rabbi Hillel was the view that was popular in Jesus' day. So divorce was common in Palestine, and in this respect the setting was not unlike our own.

Perhaps the most significant difference between their customs and ours lay in the status of the different genders. A man could divorce a woman on a whim, but a woman could not divorce a man for any cause. The Old Testament contains a highly patriarchal position that viewed a woman's sexual immorality more as property damage against her husband (or her father) rather than as a moral issue. A double standard shines throughout the Old Testament, where it was not uncommon for the male rulers to have many wives and hundreds of concubines. If you look carefully at the question of the Pharisees, you will find no concern whatsoever about a woman's rights in marriage or divorce. "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

Mickey Anders, Making Marriage Work

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12) Humor: We're Getting a Divorce 

Morris calls his son in NY and says, "Benny, I have something to tell you. However, I don't want to discuss it. I'm merely telling you because you're my oldest child, and I thought you ought to know. I've made up my mind, I'm divorcing Mama." The son is shocked, and asks his father to tell him what happened.

"I don't want to get into it. My mind is made up."


"But Dad, you just can't decide to divorce Mama just like that after 54 years together. What happened?"
"It's too painful to talk about it. I only called because you're my son, and I thought you should know. I really don't want to get into it anymore than this. You can call your sister and tell her. It will spare me the pain."


"But where's Mama? Can I talk to her?"

"No, I don't want you to say anything to her about it. I haven't told her yet. Believe me it hasn't been easy. I've agonized over it for several days, and I've finally come to a decision. I have an appointment with the lawyer the day after tomorrow."
"Dad, don't do anything rash. I'm going to take the first flight down. Promise me that you won't do anything until I get there."

"Well, all right, I promise. Next week is Yom Kippur. I'll hold off seeing the lawyer until after then. Call your sister in MA and break the news to her. I just can't bear to talk about it anymore."
A half hour later, Morris receives a call from his daughter who tells him that she and her brother were able to get tickets and that they and the children will be arriving in Florida the day after tomorrow. "Benny told me that you don't want to talk about it on the telephone, but promise me that you won't do anything until we both get there." Morris promises...

Isn't that the best way to get your kids together for Yom Kippur!

13)  "My husband and I divorced over religious differences.  He thought he was God and I didn't." 

14) A 98 year-old man and a 95 year-old woman went to a lawyer to get a divorce. How long have you been married?" he asked. "75 rough and rocky years," they said. "Then, why have you waited so long to file for divorce?" They replied, "We had to wait for the kids to die!"

15) “The secret of my success in my married life and in my business is the same, said, Henry Ford on the 50th anniversary of his wedding, I don’t change models every now and then; instead I stick on to one and try to improve it. 

16) A couple was being interviewed on their Golden Wedding  Anniversary. "In all that time -- did you ever consider divorce?" they were asked.  "Oh, no, not divorce," the wife said. "Murder sometimes, but never divorce." (Jack Benny, comedian) 

17) I never married because there was no need.  I have 3 pets at home which answer the same purpose as a husband:  I have a dog that growls every morning, a parrot which swears all afternoon and a cat that comes home late at night. 

18) Marriage is a three-ring circus: Engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.   At the cocktail party, one woman said to another, "Aren't you wearing your wedding ring on the wrong

finger?" The other replied, "Yes I am; I married the wrong man."